The other night, during my usual ribbing with a training partner, I got to thinking about training on the bike in winter. He said he couldn't ride with me because "us real triathletes train the swim and run in winter." He was mostly joking; he trains very consistently on the bike and is subsequently very fast on the bike, but he was right in that many triathletes do avoid the bike in winter. Why?
Less daylight, cold weather and difficulty planning winter workouts all contribute to less time on the bike. Additionally, the misconception that if your focus is a long event, like a half or full Ironman, you need to train long all the time deters some people from squeezing in a quick ride.
A lot of athletes train what is easy or convenient to train, not what they should train. Riding in winter can be chilly business and, frankly, trainers stink—I almost never ride mine—but there are folks out there that ride a lot in winter and do little to no swimming. There is a balance here: we have to play with the deck we are dealt but playing that hand aggressively to win and playing it to simply not get eliminated are two very different things.
If you want to get better, faster and more efficient, then guess what? You can't do whatever is convenient you have to make things happen. I know it's cold and dark but your competition doesn't care and neither does the race course. The clock doesn't slow down for you on the last climb because you "didn't get as many miles in as last year."
Here are a few ways to make riding in winter very doable, and get those miles in so you don't have any excuses come race day.
1. Remember that 99 percent of your competition is in the same situation. Don't' get discouraged because you can't do what you normally do for a bike training session. If you can use your time one percent better than your competition, you win come July.
2. Get some warm cycling clothes. There is no reason you can't ride in the cold. Lobster mitt gloves, good bottles and thermal jackets will keep you warm without making you look like the kid from A Christmas Story.
3. Maximize the time you have. Ride for workload, not miles. Don't have a power meter? Ride for time. Whatever you do, don't coast. Going easy doesn't get you better endurance; workload does.
4. Plan ahead. Look at your training goals for the week. What is the weather like? What's your work schedule like? What's the gym schedule? Now put it all together. Plan to ride on nice days or when you have more time (weekends).
5. Always be prepared. If you get out of work early or find extra time at lunch, if it was supposed to snow on Sunday but now it sunny and nice...be ready to improvise, over come and adapt.
6. Use the trainer. It stinks but it works. And there are ways to make it more exciting. Here are a few tips for that. http://ekstraininglog.blogspot.com/2006/12/laying-it-down-in-snow.html
7. Take a class. A cycling class is more exciting than a solo workout on the trainer. Cycling classes are increasingly popular at gyms so it should be easy to find one that works for you. Get there a bit early and/or stay a few minutes late if you want to squeeze in a longer session. You can also jump on the treadmill and turn your workout into a brick.
The Bottom Line
If you do what's convenient, don't plan ahead and let Mother Nature dictate your training, you're not going to get any better. You'll end up making the same excuses year after year. Chances are, your competition doesn't have any more time than you, he makes more time. Being a good athlete isn't about who's talented, who has more time or who has a better bike; it's about taking time to plan ahead and make things happen.
Train for your next race.